Goddammit, Popular Science. You had one job.

I used to subscribe to a lot of magazines, but over the years I’ve let all the subscriptions lapse. If I really want to read something, I pick it up on a newsstand, or read it online. One of the great things about my Kindle, for instance, is how I can grab an individual issue of something like The Nation or Mother Jones when I’m on vacation, and not have to deal with another physical piece of media that’s going to take up space in my bag.

I’ve found that I most frequently read magazines when I’m on airplanes (which is about twice a month, it turns out), so I usually pick up the latest WIRED or Scientific American or Mental_Floss when I’m on my way to the gate, read it, and leave it behind for the next passenger to enjoy.

But I know that magazines rely on subscriptions, and subscribing to things I really like is a good way to support that publication’s writers, editors, and staff, so I recently went ahead and subscribed to Popular Science and Mental Floss. When I signed up, I specifically requested that my information not be shared, rented, given, sold, gifted, delivered, or handed off in a dark alleyway dead drop to any third parties. Because I know that publishers don’t always honor these requests, I use unique and humorous names when I subscribe to magazines, so I know who isn’t honoring my requests.

So far, Mental_Floss is doing a great job not sharing my information. But Popular Science? Not so much. this delightful bit of junk mail showed up yesterday, along with my latest issue:

Popular Science gave my information to a third party. Not cool, PopSci

This is incredibly annoying, and violates the trust I placed in the magazine when I decided to give them my money. Awesomeface Wheaton will not be renewing his subscription, and now I get to enjoy months of telling all the third parties that Popular Science gave my information to that I don’t want their bullshit.

Look, print publications, you’re fighting with Internet and digital for eyeballs every single day. When you do shit like this, it just hastens your demise.

Don’t be a dick, magazine publishers. Do not share my information means do not share my information.

52 thoughts on “Goddammit, Popular Science. You had one job.”

  1. Dicks. I managed to sign up at David’s Bridal with my name misspelled. Now I know each and every third party they’ve given my information. I DID NOT CHECK THAT BOX. UGH.

  2. Funny how some can’t figure out that the negative word-of-mouth they get for pulling that crap far exceeds the benefits to them of doing it. My new policy is that I will not spend one penny at a web store that requires me to “sign up” before they’ll even let me see their offerings. And I’m going to inform them of that, too.

  3. I think you mean “Do not sell my information”. Trying to stave off that impending doom by selling your loyal subscribers is as they say in fancy-dudebro: “Le Douche”.

  4. I do this with email as well. I own .com, and I’ve set up a catch-all email address for it. When Acme website wants my email address, they get acme@.com. Worst offender for sharing the address? NYT and HufPo.

  5. We had to change our address to a private PO Box after having all our information redacted. We can’t even have pizza delivered to our house because of this crap. Thanks for spreading the word!

      1. Ha! I’m sure the UPS employees would appreciate the free food, but I unfortunately have to actually leave my house and pick up my
        pizza if I wish to enjoy it myself. #firstworldproblems

    1. Someone took your information and blacked it out with a magic marker and then photocopied it and now you can’t get pizzas delivered?

      Damn the CIA!

  6. You need a new catch phrase/mantra/motto.

    “Don’t be a dick” is obviously setting the bar too high.

    Please consider something along the lines of “Seriously attempt a half-hearted effort if you feel so inclined.”

    You’ll be disappointed far less often.

  7. Gr! Argh! Sorry, dude.

    I use a fake phone number and such online when required to put all that in, because no way am I giving that out, but years ago, I apparently went through a phase where I put my dog’s name on things like this, because Texas Christian University sure was interested in recruiting her for a while! And she was a pretty smart dog, so I guess they knew their stuff, right? :)

  8. Not to defend them, but being someone who works for a print publisher and deals with this all the time, I can say that unless there is a check box on the website subscription form that says “Do Not Share my information”, your information is going to be shared. Also, most list rentals are handled from different departments other than marketing (Marketing will always try NOT to piss you off) and they tend not to care about those things. Usually it’s an intern or assistant that’s running those lists and they don’t know how to filter.

  9. I run my own email servers. Every company I deal with gets their OWN unique email address. And, you’d be VERY surprised how many companies sell, share (or have stolen) your email information.

    I’ve gotten spam from dLink and others.

    I’ve even had one company “threaten” me for using their name in my email address (until I explained what it was for – then they were like ‘That’s cool !!!’ )

    1. I’ve done this for years and years now…I’ve never had one threaten me, but almost every single one of them asks me about it.

      How’d they threaten you? I see you quoted it, was it just them getting upset, or did they actually try to threaten you?

  10. Isn’t there a body in the U.S. or California that you can report that too? It’d be a breach of data protection laws in the EU, and in Ireland, I could report someone spamming me to the Data Protection Commissioner, who could (and does) prosecute.

    Dunno the fine for hard-copy spam, but email spam is liable to a fine of €3000 per instance.

    Of course, that doesn’t seem to have penetrated to many legitimate businesses, such as hotels who look for an email address when you check in. “Why?” “So we can email you…”

    Worst is my boss – “I got this email (from a company we’ve never done business with) – can you check out their product and/or service and see if it’s something we need?” “Is it for a spam blocker?”

  11. I never thought of giving a fudged up name when subscribing to things before and always who it is that has given away my info. You’re a smart man Mr. Wheaton!

  12. If the junk mailers had to pay the same as citizens to mail things, the USPS would not have had to raise their rates, millions of trees would still be standing, and selling addresses would not be an issue.

    1. Junk mailers are what keeps the USPS alive. With out them, rates would be much more than they are. As for the trees, you know that paper usually comes from forested lumber that will be replanted almost immediately to make more paper?

  13. Smart idea, I didn’t even knew entering a wrong first name was possible for subscriptions because of them billing you. Will try that in the future! :) Can I borrow “Awesomeface”? Or at least the German translation? 😉

  14. Hey, some of us use that stuff to light fires to keep the squirrel population living in our fireplace warm at night. If we didn’t have junk mail arriving to our remote Colorado wilderness, what would keep the little furry toes warm at Christmas?!?!?

  15. Thought I’d get to see a company PR person grovelling but the tweet was not addressed to @PopSci. Oh well.

  16. “Look, print publications, you’re fighting with Internet and digital for eyeballs every single day. When you do shit like this, it just hastens your demise.”

    Well said! I have a lot of appreciation for people who are still putting together magazines/newspapers – Just something noble about “wanting to keep the old tradition alive”. But it unfortunately is a dying battle and this bullshit doesn’t help.

  17. I sadly bought year long subscriptions to what i thought was more important than subscriptions (which is already pretty important), human rights. I bought a year of the NRA membership and a year of ACLU. About 6 months into it, the NRA emails were 99% adverts, not anything legal related, so i put those guys on spam blacklist. but the ACLU delivered really good material… for 11 months. As soon as renewal time came close, i began receiving 2-3 emails a week from ACLU, (welcome to blacklist, defenders of freedom?), but worse were the robo calls at 8am and 8pm every day from both companies. the NRA finally gave up (probably to go back to supporting demanding americans be allowed to sell explosives to Hezbollah, i kid you not they asked me to support that), but the damn ACLU wont. Of course i cant use any ‘we are on the no-call list’ tactics because you check a box when signing up that they can pull an Apple on you and make a human centipede if they want. Also they always say their name is ‘Ted’, but i can tell its different people – i think the aclu researched the most popular name rto get money with and force their robo slaves to use it. If only there were a civil liberties organization i could call for help to end these robo calls twice a day…

  18. "[email protected]" says:

    I do the same with email. I have a catch-all account that forwards [anything]@mydomain.com to my real account, and any random business “XYZ Enterprises” that wants my e-dress knows me as “[email protected]”.

    Works great along with sorting & filtering rules on my email client. So far it’s mostly the political groups that share my info, and I’m mostly okay with that.

  19. Hate websites that asks you to login with a social network but right after you give them permission they ask for your email address to make an account.
    I liked the fancy names to know who leaks your information. :p

  20. I hate the fact that in an age of technology we are unable to stop harassing salesmen. What I do when they call is to be their worst nightmare on the phone. I ask for managers then supervisors etc. FYI make sure everyone is on the line at once so no one misses a minute of the conversation. Then when your done block their #. I know it’s going a bit far but for piece of mind it’s worth every second.

  21. I’m sure buried wayyyyyyyy deep in their TOS is text saying that they ownz you and the kids, too. Them not having a checkbox (e.g., worked it out programmatically so it’s automatically applied or not) spells d-o-o-m doom.

  22. Mr. Wheaton,

    What a great idea to figure out the dick companies from the good ones!

    Keep up the awesomeness!

  23. Hi Wil,
    I am a new visitor to your site. I am enjoying your writing! While I understand the seriousness of the privacy breach. I love the pseudonym. I think it is a great way to keep tabs on what companies are doing with our information .


  24. If the mail came with the magazine, then they have not shared your info. They have printed the mail on behalf of the third party. The third party does not know you. This is my opinion.

  25. I’m going to agree with AG on this. Company B paid Company A to include their junk with what Company A was already sending you. Company B never learns WHO it went to UNLESS you respond to it.

  26. My husband trolls junk mail. When they send a postage paid return envelope, he will put one of several funny notes inside and send it back.

    One note has Trollface with the message, “You paid for this postage. Problem?” Another has Zoidberg saying, “Your offer is bad and you should feel bad.” Another is just the “no” meme face guy with the word, “NO.”

    It works! With very few exceptions, we never get junk mail from the same place again after the trolling.

  27. There’s an app for that — it’s called PaperKarma
    Take photos of your junk mail with your phone and it will automagically unsubscribe you.

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